12 January 2018

'The least racist person that you've ever met'

So the President of the United States once described himself, with characteristic hyperbole and, many now reiterate, with characteristic dishonesty. Donald Trump's self-assessment seems belied by his questioning yesterday, in words the White House hasn't bothered denying, why the U.S. should take in more people from "shithole" countries in Africa or like Haiti. No denial may seem necessary (though since I started writing, the radio has reportsd that Trump has tweeted a denial) because Trump assumes that his supporters get what he means, while the opinions of those who take his words to be racist don't matter. His real meeting, his stooges insist, is that the U.S. should only take in people prepared to make immediate contributions to the economy, as Norwegians, to use the President's example, presumably are. Of course, that he immediately cited a Scandinavian country after disparaging black-clad countries only damns Trump further in the eyes of those who have assumed all along that skin color (or 'culture') is his primary concern. Had he a quicker wit, he might have named some Asian country if he did not want to be thought of as racist. As it is, even now liberals are overreacting to Trumpian boorishness and most likely guaranteeing themselves more lulz from his supporters. It can be argued, after all, that many nations are shitholes. Many liberals might consider Russia a shithole, for instance, for a variety of reasons, though for them that would be reason to welcome Russians seeking to escape their national shittiness. There are two real questions raised by the President's own designation of shittiness. Does the state of any given country effectively disqualify its citizens, as Trump seems to imply, from even the potential of contributing to the American economy or culture? How much does any nation's shithole status have to do with its racial makeup? To deal with the latter question, Trump should try to identify African nation's that are not shitholes, and if he can't, he should try to explain what, if anything besides black rule, makes them shitholes. As for the question of usefulness, there's no getting around the fact that Trump applies a utilitarian standard that represents a departure from past policy and liberal tradition. The fact that Ireland was a shithole in the 1840s didn't stop the U.S. from accepting Irish immigrants, despite cultural objections from the Know-Nothings; nor did the fact that much of Europe remained a shithole later in the 19th century stop us from welcoming people from Eastern Europe and Italy, despite more cultural objections. In each case, the nation's best years were still to come despite the inclusion of people who seemed as alien to WASPS then as Africans may seem now. In all past cases, it was not required that immigrants immediately prove their ability to contribute. It should be possible to argue that circumstance here are sufficiently different to justify applying a different standard without the new standard reflecting on other countries. It just doesn't seem possible for this President to make that argument or articulate that standard in a diplomatic or even civilized way.

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